July 29, 2007

Vermont Electric Power Sources and Timing

The following excerpt from a Burlington Free Press article today describes a $500,000 outreach effort to obtain citizen input for Vermont's energy policy as the licensing of Vermont Yankee and the HydroQuebec power supply contracts expire in the next decade. The effort will be specifically targeted to determine what non-experts and non-advocates think about where and how Vermont should get its electric power in the future. Whatever the outcome, rest assured that we will pay significantly more for electricity after 2012/2015 than we do today, either in direct costs, surcharges or hidden costs.

A half a million dollars seems a steep price for this effort, and it alone certainly won't be the determining factor. The issue will boil down to what is the expected demand for baseload power and how can that be met at the best cost. I say 'best,' because, for some lowest price won't be best because of the ideological and philosophical basis which individuals will assert are important to them, e.g., the planet, the environment, renewable sources, etc.

I was disappointed in the Freep piece because it failed to describe how someone can participate in this process. Also, the writer failed to make important distinctions between baseload, peak, and intermittent power sources. Perhaps I am expecting too much of the Vermont media.

In any event, the media has a wonderful opportunity to deal with the electric power issue for the next few years. I hope they take advantage of it to truly inform Vermonters of the issues and options from all sides of the issue, not only the political machinations that will inevitably surround it.

I remember providing public comments many years ago at a hearing before Vermont utilities chose to negotiate a power supply contract with HydroQuebec. The environmental opponents attempted to turn the hearing into a circus by parading around the hall dressed as Cree carrying canoes. They were protesting the flooding of Native peoples' hunting grounds for the reservoirs that HQ was building in far northern Quebec.

The good news result was Vermont elected to obtain electricity from HydroQuebec at what history has shown to be very favorable rates and I believe the Cree were accommodated.

"The discussion is needed because Vermont relies heavily on two sources: Vermont Yankee, a 650-megawatt nuclear power plant in Vernon, and Hydro-Quebec, a massive Canadian utility that generates 35,000 megawatts, mostly from 54 hydroelectric dams; a sliver of that, about 300 megawatts, is sent over the border to Vermont. One megawatt generates enough electricity to supply about 1,000 residential homes.

Contracts with both suppliers are nearing an end.

Vermont Yankee's 40-year license and power contracts expire in 2012; in 2015, most of Hydro-Quebec's contracts end."
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